The Collector of Treasures by Bessie Amelia Emery

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bessie Head’s vignette of a village woman abandoned and abused by her husband begins in medias res. In the first of the story’s four sections, Dikeledi is on her way to prison in Gaborone, the country’s new capital city, from her village, Puleng. She gazes indifferently at the passing landscape of the bush as she rides in the police truck. As a result of the long day’s lonely journey and her emotional turmoil, she finally collapses, “oblivious to everything but her pain.” On her arrival at the prison that night, she is stirred to consciousness by the police, who dutifully record her crime, “man-slaughter,” and her life sentence. As Dikeledi is led to her barren cell, the wardress remarks sarcastically that she will be the fifth woman currently in the prison to have been sentenced for the same offense, murdering her husband, and notes that the crime is “becoming the fashion these days.” Having been locked up, Dikeledi is left to her own silence in the dark cell.

On rising early the next morning, the other four women—Kebonye, Otsetswe, Galeboe, and Monwana—introduce themselves. Kebonye asks Dikeledi why her parents have named her tears, and she replies that it was after her mother, who died when Dikeledi was six years old, her father having died in the year of her birth. In the ensuing conversation, Dikeledi expresses little sorrow for her crime, which was murder by castration. As the women begin their work in the prison, they observe that Dikeledi’s “hands of strange power” are especially skillful with sewing, knitting, and weaving. She has, in fact, reared her three children largely through her own efforts, because her husband abandoned her after four years of marriage.

After the day passes in intimate disclosure among the five women, the third-person, omniscient narrator describes Dikeledi’s newfound friendships as “gold amidst the ash, deep loves that had joined her heart to the hearts of others.” In this “phase three of a life that had been ashen in its loneliness and unhappiness,” Dikeledi accepts the tender compassion possible in friendship: “She was the collector of such treasures.”

Having established the protagonist’s complexity of character, yet withholding the comprehension of it from the reader, the narrator begins the second section with a digression on the “two kinds of men in the society.” With cultural background analyzing the evolution of the type of man who bears no responsibility for his family or for his community, Garesego is introduced as the model of the man who is “a broken wreck with no inner resources at all.” For Garesego, national independence has brought a two-hundred-percent increase in salary that permits him to engage “in a dizzy kind of death dance of wild destruction and dissipation.” He leaves his wife and three sons in favor of drinking and prostitutes. Ironically, he does so in the same year, 1966, of Botswana’s independence.

Against Garesego, the narrator sets the second type of man, modeled by Paul Thebolo. He devotes himself entirely to his family’s stability and to the community’s well-being. Not only is he principal of the primary school, but also he is the epitome of the caring neighbor. Further, he is an example of leadership, moderating discussions of politics and assisting the villagers whenever they require his skills in literacy. His inner resources give him “the power to create himself anew.”

Dikeledi meets Paul when he arrives in Puleng to build his house. She, renowned for her ability to thatch a roof, offers to assist in setting up the household. Not long after, his wife, Kenalepe Thebolo, arrives; the two women develop an intimate, enduring friendship. Because of the Thebolos’s reputation, Dikeledi’s dressmaking business begins to boom. Throughout the next eight years, the friendship deepens. By virtue of her craft skills, Dikeledi becomes nearly self-sufficient. Kenalepe even offers to “loan” her husband to...

(The entire section is 1,397 words.)